USA / France 1996
Robert Altman, Scott Bushnell (executive) for CiBy 2000, Sandcastle 5 Productions
directed by Robert Altman
starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Miranda Richardson, Harry Belafonte, Michael Murphy, Dermot Mulroney, Steve Buscemi, Brooke Smith, Jane Adams, Jeff Feringa, A.C. Tony Smith, Martin Martin, Albert J. Burnes, Ajia Mignon Johnson, Tim Snay, Tawanna Benbow, Cal Pritner, Jerry Fornelli, Michael Ornstein, Michael Garozzo, Joe Digirolamo, John Durbin, Gina Belafonte, Nancy Marcy, Buck Baker, Dorothy Kemp-Clark, Edward Pennington, Robert Elliott, Marlon Hoffman, Patrick Oldani, Philip Trovato, and on-set musicians James Carter, Craig Handy, David Murray, Joshua Redman, Jesse Davis, David 'Fathead' Newman jr, Don Byron, Olu Dara, Nicholas Payton, James Zollar, Curtis Fowlkes, Clark Gayton, Victor Lewis, Geri Allen, Cyrus Chestnut, Ron Carter, Tyrone Clark, Christian McBride, Russell Malone, Mark Whitfield, Kevin Mahogany
written by Robert Altman, Frank Barhydt, music coordinator: Eimear Bradbury
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Kansas City, the 1930s: Johnny (Dermot Mulroney) has really picked the
wrong man when he, together with cabbie Blue (Martin Martin), robs black
highroller Sheepshan (A.C. Tony Smith), as Sheepshan is an acquaintance of
local crime kingpin Seldom Seen (Harry Belafonte), and Seldom Seen is
quick to identify the perpetrators and has them brought to him. Blue is
quickly killed off, but since Johnny's white - in a time when racism was
mainstream -, it's much more dangerous to just kill him, so Seldom Seen
decides to physically and mentally torture him while trying to figure what
to do with him.
Johnny's wife Blondie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is of
course worried sick about what might happen to Johnny, especially after
she learns where he's held, so she has the somewhat eccentric idea to
kidnap Carolyn, the opium addicted wife of powerful politician Henry
Stilton (Michael Murphy), to try and get him to intervene, as in rescue
Johnny in exchange for his wife's life. Thing is, that's not as easy as it
sounds - and it doesn't sound easy to begin with -, as Carolyn is
completely doped up and has little idea what's going on, Stilton's
currently travelling to Washington and cannot be reached easily, Blondie
hasn't thought through her plan as to where to hold her nor accomplices to
guard her, so she drags her round the city with her walking from one
blunder into the next, plus it's election day, and the whole city's in a
frenzy. And while Blondie's merely trying to save her husband and keeping
her own head above water, the wheels are turning in the background, and
not necessarily in her favour ...
Steve Buscemi plays the hot-headed
husband of Blondie's sister (Brooke Smith).
Now I will say
this, even if Kansas City has plenty to go for it, it's not one of
Robert Altman's best movies, it just seems to meander between comedy and
drama, hommage and social interest flick a bit too undecidedly to give its
plot the needed urgency. But that said, at the same time Kansas City
is anything but bad, it's beautifully crafted with an eye for detail and
much love for the period it's set in, the acting's spot on, the direction
is elegant and shows Altman at top form. But it's really the music that
makes this movie, probably one of the best scores ever, with some of
the finest jazz musicians of its day playing 1930s style
improvisational jazz live on set, and the result is truly fantastic.
not one of Robert Altman's best, but well worth a look (and listen).